10 March 2007


I wake to white- white clouded light reflecting off white walls, white sheet spreading towards the bed edge, white duvet, with just the corner of the navy starburst embroidery cresting near my eye. The bells are ringing at Hallgrímskirkja, this time not the usual Big Ben borrowing, but something more local. The crisp triplets remind me of an Icelandic psalm my choir is probably singing across town right now, without me, my voice hoarse from the flu that's been snuggling up to me these past days.

Coffee first, simmering in the now beat-up $15 espresso maker my brother customized for me over 10 years ago, the curlicues etched in the aluminum spelling my initials, our family name. The yellow Italian cup and saucer awaits, but for now I'll take up my spot at the kitchen window, resting my chin on the edge of the open window so I can inhale the frigid clean air and look out over the place where I live.

Below me the last of yesterday evening's snowstorm is still nestled in the dips on the red corrugated roof of the sheds, a smocked spot of color surrounded by the gray of the apartment walls nearby. The clotheslines sway in some kind of private courtship dance, a pair of clothespins adding unexpected twitches to the movement. In the distance, the backside of Esja is covered with snow, and I imagine I can taste the wet snowbreeze that is sweeping down the sides. Later, after coffee, there will be the pool, where I will soak in the steam and the hot water, leaning against the turquoise tub-edges and looking out over the other side of Reykjavik, to the paired towers of Háteigskirkja and into my friend T's living room window just across from the pool.

Last week I heard that yet another of my friends is moving abroad. This will be the fourth since I have left Boston to abandon the United States, for China, for Dubai, for Canada. The people I know here are a constantly shifting mass as well- in the past seven months many of the friends I have met here have come and gone, mostly to return to the country where they came from, but others to new adventures in other foreign places. It's like my ex-boyfriend once was told- "you're one of Them", the people who need to, want to, have to wander the world.

Thing is, I'm not sure that's me. When I stand with my nose in the breeze and wait for the sizz of coffee's-done, I'd rather not go anywhere else. How do people who go back to their home countries know when It's Time To Go? Must it always be so? I know more than one person views my living here as one of those things people of my generation and education level are bound to do, but there's that knowledge that they will always Come Home. Do we have to? How do we ever know when we've found the place where we belong, that belongs to us? This is a question even if we never go within more than a day's drive from the place where we were born, but given the relative isolation from familiarity that moving abroad can bring, it's on my mind often these days.

I remember my grandparents, early pioneering expats, who lived in two countries and dozens of foreign cities before ultimately returning to an all-American New England ranch house upon retiring. They didn't want to grow old in a place where they would always have to remember what language to speak. The house, though ordinary on the outside, was crammed with the remnants and memories of the places they lived, some of which are still here with me now- the rug from who-knows-where, the gallery exhibit posters from all over France, the Brazilian wood and stone carvings, the Murano millefiori glass bowl I had always loved.

The decision of where my life will take place does not have to be made all at once, I know, but the more intertwined with Iceland I become, the less this feels like a temporary choice. I've never been the kind of person who had a 10-year plan, or even a 2-year plan, for that matter, so I've never put a timeline on this current adventure. As long as it still feels sometimes so disbelievably fantasyland, I think I'm going to stay a while yet.


Visionary & Medium Extraordinaire said...

I've been going through exactly the same thoughts lately. Thinking about home, where is it, where do I belong.
I on the other hand don't really feel like I belong here, where I am yet not knowing where the next step ought to take me to. I'm in a whirlwind of confusion. And I know I need to make a decision sometime soon.
I'm longing to find my 'Home'

Sarah said...

Geez, E, when are you gonna get your book together? Beautiful post, achingly familiar and yet like nothing I've felt before.

-Sarah :O)

Professor Batty said...

... as I sit here, sipping my coffee, the early morning sunlight streaming in the window, reading this post; it makes me feel as if I am sharing a moment with a cherished old friend, discussing life's problems and possibilities... thanks for the uplift!

tsduff said...

Your reflections make my heart swing even futher over the edge of my fear precipice... the edge of the plunge which draws me so strongly. I've always been a creature of habit - change is not my strong point. Heck, my livingroom furniture hasn't changed positions since I moved here into my grandmother's home 12 years ago. Move? Move to a different state? A different COUNTRY? What has happened to me? My thinking has changed... my longing for peace and beauty is becoming stronger than my fear of the dreaded change. Fear of the unknown quiets a bit when I imagine the rewards of at least making an attempt toward my imagined move.

I do like your openess and direct telling of your thoughts. Thanks E. Get well soon.

T.S. said...

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

ECS said...

SB: your own posts made me wonder if something similar wasn't going on for you too.

Sarah: Thanks! I had that "feeling" when I sat down to write that it was gonna be a good one, so it's nice to hear that it got the mood across to you, all the way over there in Cali.

Batty: Something about kitchens and the smell of morning coffee on the weekend is perfect for reflection. It's interesting to me that you felt uplifted though, since that was not exactly the mood I was feeling- more confused and uncertain.

terry: there IS peace and beauty in change. My kitchen window view on a cloudy Saturday morning is both of those. As for the moving and so forth, there's enough change in everyone's life, even if they don't change countries, that these questions probably still apply to some extent.

and to the anon Eliot quoter... are you family or did you just guess at the significance of that little slip of a book in my life?

T.S. said...

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

Jade said...

"One of them", indeed. I was thinking of that the other day, moving from one foreign country to another.. Could I ever live in my original country and be satisfied? Or is that need to travel always gonna be there?
Also, I wonder if I'm just looking for something new every time, or if in some way I want to be in a place where I'm an outsider.. Who knows. I'll see where things stand in 10 years :)

I do like the idea of the life your parents have had, by the way. Traveling all over then retiring somewhere familiar... Good post.

dtw said...

I know I'm too young to have any real credibility on this, but I can't not ramble for a moment upon reading and remembering some of your thoughts.

I've not always been the same person I am today, but I've never been afraid of trusting my intuition. I don't need to know where I'm in two years, and I sort of don't want to know either.

I'd say the best thing one can do is break free of the possible obligations. Do you have to eventually return to square one? No. Do you need to keep ever wandering in hopes of finding something better? No.

I think it only comes down to how you perceive your own life. If you can't trust your own instincts in that, then what can you?

When you can take a look at what you see, hear, smell, do, sense and love and say feel that you are happy here, then...

Then you're where you belong.

Hulles said...

I'm too old to have any credibility in this myself, but the lyrical expression of your soul that you display here is really the foundation of the home you will make wherever you are. And jeez, normally I write funny stuff.... Very very nice writing. I'm glad you made my day.

ECS said...

Eliot poster: Identify yourself!..please?

Jade: I wonder myself if I'm attracted to the being-different as well. When I went to college I was known as the kid with the loom in the basement and the x-c skis propped outside my dorm room door, and at first I was self-conscious about it but then I gave up on the worry and then it was pretty cool. The differentness can be addictive, but it can also wear you down a bit, don't you think?

DTW: I expected you would have things to say about this, given your own wanderings. As for trusting one's instincts, I think most of us have a hard time with that. It's hard to do.

Hulles: I've actually said this myself in response to someone telling me that I belonged here because I could appreciate all the little things that people who were born here often miss. That's a moveable feast and has nothing to do with living here or anywhere else. It IS all about the writing in the end :-)

akd said...

Hi E,
Great post! When I traveled halfway across the country for a job interview last year, I was deep in contemplating how it would be to live in that place, and in so doing I realized how deeply Vermont's landscape had etched itself on me. I 'knew' at that point that VT was home, and it was a great realization...it cleared up a lot of vague wantings and wonderings. I think some people travel/nomadicize because they didn't feel such a connection to where they grew up, and others because they have strong roots and want to experience that in other places. You = the latter, I think!

ECS said...

akd! Welcome to commenting. Please don't let it be your last... I like your idea that wandering can stem from strong roots. Vermont is definitely always partly in my mind and I miss some pieces of it terribly at times, especially September/October when the smells of autumn start to rise up from the ground and the trees and the plants. Ahhh. There's just so much to love in the world though, and I think when you come here you will understand at least partly why I'm strangely happy living here.